Greystone Park (2012)

FEBRUARY 5, 2013

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

Apart from curiosity as an Oliver Stone fan, my main interest in seeing Greystone Park (starring, directed, and co-written by Oliver's son Sean) is that the commentary track got written up in the AVClub's wonderful column called "Commentary Tracks of the Damned", where they don't really review the movie but the commentary that accompanies it, pointing out the various "crimes" of the participants, noting when they get pretentious, and summing up the track with one choice comment that more or less describes the entire thing. I read it even if I haven't seen the movie, and thus I wanted to wait to rent this until I knew I'd have time for what sounded like a pretty memorable (not in a good way) listen.

But first I had to get through the movie, which was pretty damn bad as it turns out. I like the general concept behind it, and I can almost forgive some of their filmmaking choices, but it doesn't change the fact that the movie is a frustrating, highly unlikable experience that seems to WANT the audience to hate it. How else to explain the near constant darkness that makes it difficult to tell who is even talking let alone what they are doing at the time? 90% of the scares are invisible to our eyes - the characters suddenly just start screaming and running, later telling us "someone with gray hair just walked by!" or whatever. You can (and SHOULD) get away with a few such scares, but this is almost all of them, and they don't seem that scary anyway - they hear noises or see shadows and to them it's like suddenly being face to face with Pennywise the Clown or something. To me, I just assumed it was the crew of one of the 609 other found footage movies about abandoned asylums shooting their own tired scare scenes in the adjacent room or floor.

Now, one thing I DO like about this movie is that it practically takes place in real time; the trio head out one night around sundown and things go to hell pretty instantly, with most of the movie being their attempts to find a way out and/or regroup as someone always gets separated. With so many of these movies having me wondering why they had so much battery power and tape to film so much, this was a relief of sorts, and it helped keep the energy up - despite a clear image of what was usually happening, it was always on the move. And the sloppy camerawork was acceptable as well to some degree - I'd rather look at 30 seconds of someone's foot than get perfectly framed shots in one of these things, as this way helps sell the illusion more. But they gotta meet us halfway on such things - I mean I LITERALLY had no idea what the hell was going on throughout at least half of the movie, because it was just a total black image or so heavily distorted that what I COULD make out didn't help me much.

Worse, you can still HEAR the insufferable two male characters, who apparently improvised much of their dialogue using their favorite words: "Dude", "Fuck", and "What" (as in "What was that?" or "What the fuck?"). When they're not dropping this form of Shakespeare on us, they're rambling about Medusa, shadow men (what they call ghosts), and realms, all of which comes off as extremely pretentious. It's like listening to that asshat from Paranormal State talk about "Ghost time" for 90 minutes straight or something, and worse, most of what they're spouting off about doesn't seem to be part of what is going on. At one point their friends are revealed to have been messing with them, but without any clear explanation as to HOW MUCH they were behind and how much was the work of the "Shadow men". Then they just start grasping at straws, suggesting that their female companion (the only tolerable character) was a ghost the whole time, or that they were merely going crazy, or that one of them was possessed by the spirit of a former patient. It's the same sort of thing that Session 9 tried, but nowhere near as successful - Session 9 worked because we had real characters to latch on to, a coherent storyline, and, well, visible imagery. This has Oliver Stone smoking a hookah and telling a pretty lame ghost story.

It's also a complete slap in the face to anyone who puts a modicum of effort into presenting these movies as actual documentary/found footage, as there are cutaways that would be impossible to achieve with a single camera, including a few instances where it seems that a character has passed the camera to another mid conversation and then back again. Stone also adds a (decent) score as well, for some reason, further making this harder to believe as someone's filmed account of an event. Not to mention, the total darkness often makes it hard to tell who is filming because we can't really see who is "on-screen" in order to use process of elimination. Add in the various dialogue overlaps and back and forth editing (the dinner party is returned to a couple of times) and you have what mostly just feels like a typical modern shaki-cam movie, albeit with fewer lights.

At least the commentary didn't disappoint, since I was specifically listening to it to hear the same sort of gibberish that the movie unfortunately wallowed in as well. The three stars drone on and on about shadow men, pointing out several that a viewer would miss (likely because they were still trying to adjust their eyes to see the main part of the image), and discussing all of the freaky things that happened while filming. Every noise in the distance and wrong number phone is chalked up to supernatural phenomena, and after awhile the track starts to sound more like the paranoid ramblings of a guy with a CB radio than a film commentary. The multiple locations are pointed out and every now and then they tell a shooting story that sounds normal enough, but they always snap right back into "trying to convince us that this is real" mode, even though Sean refers to himself and his father as "Sean" and "Oliver" (i.e. like characters) and points out the idiotic CGI faces that they put in to try to scare us.

Same goes for the two making of featurettes, which might as well be footage from the movie (albeit lit properly) as it's more of the same nonsense about mysterious distorted phone calls and such. The one on locations is slightly better since the real hospitals and their histories are far more interesting than the story of the movie (which also includes some basic information on these establishments), but just rent Titicut Follies if you want to know more about them. The alternate ending offers up some text-based epilogue that works slightly better than the one they actually went with, but doesn't quite resolve enough to say "This would have made the movie GOOD!".

Here's the thing that I don't think 2/3s of these faux-doc filmmakers understand: there's a tradeoff involved with going with this style over a traditional one. Yes, you can get away with a smaller crew, less than perfect shots, and a slower pace than you would normally, but you also have to rethink everything about how that camera fits into the story. It's not as simple as just having three actors running around in a scary location (which is exactly what this is) - you have to justify why they're filming, and think about your editing 2x as much as you would in a normal film if you want to pull it off properly. If you can't put that much effort into it, then don't do it. We have enough of them.

What say you?

6 comments:

  1. the worsy paranormal video / movie ever made

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  2. Just finished the film and noticed it was reviewed here. I was really disappointed - it tried to do a lot of things and didn't really succeed at any. I'm mostly confused. What was with the dolls? Why was the chapel of an asylum all set up for a sacrifice? Why couldn't I see anything!? And could someone explain the ending to me? I do not mean this rhetorically. Was Sean the killer all along? Doesn't seem possible. Or was he crazy? Did everything only happen in his mind? What the hell is going on!

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  3. I again find myself liking a film that everyone seems to hate and finding the reasons for which it is hated to be kind of dumb. They mostly seem to arise from nit-picking and misunderstanding.

    "Worse, you can still HEAR the insufferable two male characters, who apparently improvised much of their dialogue using their favorite words ..."

    Right, because you would totally expect terrified kids in a haunted asylum to be reciting what they saw as if they were testifying in court.

    "... they're rambling about Medusa, shadow men (what they call ghosts), and realms, all of which comes off as extremely pretentious."

    This was one of the elements I really liked in the film. It was really an amalgamation of the general western understanding and knowledge of the paranormal and the occult. "Shadow people" are one of the major modern manifestations of the "evil spirit."

    All of it is also directly relevant to the plot. How is a discussion of "shadow men" out of bounds when that is literally what is plaguing them the entire time?

    The mystical import of the discussion of Medusa is later revealed when they discover a charm in the asylum depicting the face of Medusa. It is circular, and quite similar to the very charm that Antonella had brought along. She had said in her "pretentious ramblings" that Medusa was a beautiful woman who was transformed into a demon by the gods, and that she was now a symbol of death. Once you saw her there was no going back.

    Furthermore, an entirely logical reason for that scene was the fact that it was establishing that she had a strong fascination in the occult and the supernatural, which is a central tenet of her character. On the whiteboard behind her, you see notes on mythology and the occult.

    Additionally, at Sean's home, we see a print-out of "Witches' Sabbath" by Francisco Goya. He has painted wings on the goat representing the Devil and says that he has seen some of the characters in the picture in his dreams. He says he believes it has a deeper meaning. Early on in the film, before they discover the stone with Medusa's face, they find a print-out of a witches' sabbath not unlike the picture in Sean's home. It again features the Devil as a goat, this time as a large, menacing silhouette. The mystical nature of Greystone Park itself is revealed effectively by the synchronicitous discovery of two occultic objects similar to those identified previously as being of deep meaning to Antonella and Sean. Its a very creepy way of the asylum sending a direct, personalized calling card to the two of them.

    And I fail to see how discussing the existence of other realities/dimensions/energies is in any way out of bounds in a FILM ABOUT GHOSTS!

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  4. "At one point their friends are revealed to have been messing with them, but without any clear explanation as to HOW MUCH they were behind and how much was the work of the "Shadow men"."

    Why is it that whenever a director makes it plainly obvious that they are purposely leaving something ambiguous, virtually every negative review damns them with it? Do you want the director to serve us the entire story on a silver platter?

    Horror movies like these are deliberately mysterious in precisely such ways, and ambiguity is too often mistaken for ineptitude or incoherence. The reviewers of "Lovely Molly" were very guilty of this.

    Sean has said in more than one interview that the audience is supposed to be in the dark as to whether paranormal activity is actually taking place or whether the environment is simply taking a toll on its unwanted inhabitants. The introduction of John and Monique submerges this into a grayer area.

    "Then they just start grasping at straws, suggesting that their female companion (the only tolerable character) was a ghost the whole time, or that they were merely going crazy, or that one of them was possessed by the spirit of a former patient."

    How was it "grasping for straws" to suggest she was possessed when indication after indication of that was thrown in the viewer's face? No one ever said she was a ghost the whole time. When they were terrified, Sean starts thinking that the entire chapel charade is an illusion.

    The dismissive attitude toward the paranormal in this review likely accounts for a large part of why the "pretentious" discussions of mysticism and its significance to the larger picture here flew right over the his head.

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  5. "What was with the dolls?"

    They would have belonged to the patients. That's why in the scene where Antonella is possessed, she's cradling and speaking to one of the dolls as if she is deeply familiar with it. Earlier than that, she starts laughing maniacally when the 'psychic driving' tape is played. These reactions to these objects are consistent with that which would be expected from one of the patients, and thus we are intended to believe that she was possessed by one of the building's many wandering spirits. Clearly she is manipulated by much darker forces than that by the end. We are given to understand that her character has a sensitivity to the paranormal and in fact she predicts that there is "something" coming to get her shortly before her truly dark possession is solidified and she locks the door on Sean.

    Sean, a longtime friend of the real Antonella Lentini, has said that she actually *is* highly sensitive to the occult and she received very strange, anomalous calls after the project began. Greystone is indeed home to very sinister strangeness, and its dark mythology long predates the movie.

    "Why was the chapel of an asylum all set up for a sacrifice?"

    The specter of satanic cult worship at the site runs strong through the movie. At the beginning, Alex mentions that it is October 13 and any satanists in the area will be looking to perform a sacrificial rite. The satanic graffiti, the occult symbols, the presence of some mysterious witch and the satanic-themed chapel all are designed to:

    a) Emphasize that satanic worship takes place in this building.

    b) Demonstrate the very real connection between the dark side of psychiatry (brainwashing and torture) and the occult.

    "And could someone explain the ending to me?"

    One of the recurring shadow people is seen wearing dark clothes and a fedora similar to what Sean is wearing at the end. Throughout the film it is implied that some people are driven insane by the ghostly entities in the asylum and don't leave.

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  6. "The multiple locations are pointed out and every now and then they tell a shooting story that sounds normal enough, but they always snap right back into "trying to convince us that this is real" mode, even though Sean refers to himself and his father as "Sean" and "Oliver" (i.e. like characters) and points out the idiotic CGI faces that they put in to try to scare us."

    They didn't say that the film itself was real. Obviously the shadows in the film are edited in, and they admit that. They never said otherwise.

    What they said is that the movie is a fictionalized reconstruction or retelling of their story. Much of the creepiness *was* real, or at least alleged to be so. For example, Sean said in one interview that he has seen pictures of the real Billy Lasher in the asylum. The part where Alex is possessed and says "That's where they eat," was allegedly a real part of their unfilmed exploration of the real asylum. Some of the reactions in the Asylum Tapes are also reputedly genuine, and they were indeed filming in notoriously haunted asylums. They weren't able to secure permission for Greystone, so they settled for the next best settings.

    His sightings of "shadow people" are supported by untold masses of compelling, corroborated testimonial evidence.

    The occult connections to the dark side of psychology are also very documented, as is the fact that satanic groups tend to like abandoned buildings - especially those synonymous with death and tragedy like mental asylums. Let's just say that a good vibe to us means something different to them.

    Peace, folks.

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